Hackers took over an Instagram Influencers account and scammed her followers

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Net Patrol International Inc.  Data Investigation and Forensic Services
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Trustees

A Canadian woman is warning social media users to be careful of fraud. Sharon Mudavanhu, known as @YogaColourist on Instagram, said hackers took over her Instagram page and scammed thousands of dollars from her followers.

Mudavanhu amassed over 82,000 followers on the social media app, many of which are customers and clients.

The Mississauga woman said her account was hacked on Oct. 15, and she wasn’t able to access it.

The hackers used her page to run an investment scam. Though the page is currently set to private, a screengrab shows a post from Sunday that states, “if you want to invest and increase your money 5/10 times within 1-2 hours, contact Emma!”

Emma Ramirez was tagged in the post, and that profile page shows that they are a “full-time Forex Trader.”

Mudavanhu remembered thinking “Well, no one is going to believe that. It looks like a scam, so I hope no one looks into it further.”

Unfortunately, Mudavanhu learned that some people did.

Mudavanhu explained that she become concerned when an acquaintance said she had been in contact with the hackers through the account’s direct messages inbox. The acquaintance said that the hackers were communicating as though it was Mudavanhu herself.

She tried to get in touch with Instagram and Facebook support (which owns Instagram) but did not get a response from either platform.

Mudavanhu learned that hackers were able to scam one of her followers out of US$10,000 and counts seven people so far who have been scammed out of at least $23,000. One of her followers wouldn’t tell her the exact amount, just saying “she had lost everything.” Mudavanhu said “I started to realize the gravity of this post and people thinking they are talking to me and trusting me.”

Sarah from the United States is one of Mudavanhu’s followers and sent money to the alleged investment scheme. She wouldn’t say how much money she had lost but did say the minimum investment was $1,000.

“It’s more than I feel comfortable losing,” she said.

Sarah declared that she had made legitimate investments in cryptocurrency before. Sarah reached out to Sharon’s account after seeing the post and the hackers convinced her to pursue it. She added that had it not been Sharon seemingly making the recommendation, she likely would not have gone through with it.

“[Sharon] has built a loyal following off of the good person that she is and her amazing and incredible work. So she is a trustworthy person, and someone got in there and took advantage of it,” she said, adding, “It didn’t cross my mind till afterwards that Sharon could have also been scammed.”

Once Sarah realized her mistake, she tried to negotiate to get her money back, but the hackers stopped responding. “I feel betrayed. I feel like I made a mistake.”

Sarah put a claim in with her bank to get her money back and hopefully track down the hacker. The bank said it might take a long time to receives results, if that ever happens.

Meanwhile, as Facebook and Instagram did not respond, Mudavanhu started another Instagram account, where she detailed her ordeal and warned her followers not to give any money. She also added an alert on her company website, cautioning people that she had no control over her account.

Mudavanhu also went to the police, where she was dismissed because she wasn’t the victim. However, one officer made a police report to catalogue Mudavanhu’s assertion she wasn’t the scammer.

“I feel like it’s hurting my reputation and the trust people had in me. What could I have done in this situation? These hackers are really smart and are five steps ahead of me,” said Mudavanhu. “I just feel helpless.”

Mudavanhu clarified that at this point she doesn’t care to get her account back; she just wants to stop people from being scammed.

CityNews contacted Facebook about Mudavanhu’s account. They did not answer many of our questions but did say they are now working to restore her access to her account. They also recommended that social media users to take advantage of all of the app’s security features, so this does not happen to anyone else’s account.

“We know that losing access to your account can be a distressing experience,” a spokesperson said in an email to CityNews. “We encourage people to strengthen their security by turning on two-factor authentication and alerts for unrecognized logins, and to visit our Help Center for tips and best practices to keep their accounts secure.”

Since then, Mudavanhu gained access to her account but said she was “scared.” She said she wanted to speak with CityNews to raise awareness and warn social media users to be cautious online.

A “mecca” for hackers

Supervisor of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Jeff Horncastle, said Social media is a “an evolving tool scammers are using.” He said and what happened to Sharon is common, adding that hackers often try to used a trusted source to take advantage of their loyal followers.

Between 2017 and 2020, Canadians lost more than $75 million through social media scams.

Investment scams are growing online especially as we are entering a virtual world. In 2017, just over 180 investment scams were committed through cyber means (social media, the internet, and emails), leading to $3.3 million lost. By 2021, that number has increased to $28.2 million and over 530 reports in just the first six months of the year.

At that rate, victims could lose over $50 million to scammers this year, Horncastle estimated. It is also important to remember that several cases are not reported reported to the Anti-Fraud Centre. “In reality, the number is much much, higher,” he said.

A study from McMaster University found that only five per cent of victims report fraud when they have been scammed.

“Always do your research and do your due diligence if you decide to invest. That is the best way to protect yourself,” said Horncastle. For instance, with an investment scam, potential investors can check if someone is properly registered as an investment advisor with the Canadian Securities Administrator’s online tool.

Most important of all, he advised, “Just never send any money. If this person has never asked for money in the past, there’s probably something wrong with that request.” This article was originally sourced by toronto.citynews.ca.